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Female Furies: Rise and Rage Against the Man(chine)

Female Furies: Rise and Rage Against the Man(chine)

By Cecil Castellucci Monday, December 23rd, 2019

Female Furies reimagines Jack Kirby's infamous female warriors through a brutally honest modern day lens. In this special guest post, writer Cecil Castellucci explains how the now collected miniseries first came together.

When I took on the task of writing Female Furies this year (with brilliant art by Adriana Melo), I wanted to take the fierce women that I saw had been delegated to the gutters between the panels in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World and put them front and center. I wanted to give light to their story. To give voice to their journey. To turn up the colors that Jack Kirby had so expertly already stitched into the story but had not put on the pages. I set out to reimagine the story of Granny, Big Barda and the other Furies and focus it through the lens of the reckoning that we as a society are having right now with the Me Too movement. It is no easy feat to take a small sliver of the Fourth World and try to recontextualize it for today, but that is what Adriana and I tried to do in our miniseries. We are in a moment of reckoning and Barda and the Furies seemed ripe to have one in their world, too.

There is no tender way to write about a brutal world. Apokolips is as hellish as they come. But I wanted to write about an awakening in an unfair patriarchal system and the dynamics that are in play in the kind of a society where war is constant and killing and betrayal are de rigeur.

In writing this book, I had to hold two things in my head at the same time:

The Female Furies are an elite fighting team. Well trained. Super powerful. Feared by many.

The Female Furies live on a hell planet and are held back by the misogynist society they live in.

These two statements are true.

Kirby left so much unsaid about the Female Furies, Granny Goodness and the women in the Fourth World, but laid so much out in the folds of the story he was telling. There were threads that were longing to be pulled on and woven into a tale of their own, where Barda, the Furies and the other women were the central figures. I wanted to know more about Heggra’s overthrow by Darkseid. Tigra being given the status of a non-being. Granny Goodness being relegated as a den mother to the terror orphanage. And the reasons why the Female Furies had such blind loyalty to Apokolips while being treated as second class citizens. There was so much more story in the Fourth World to be explored.

I was very careful to follow the crumbs that Jack Kirby hinted at on the page. Moments that he included that showed his care and attention to the plight of women in his world and in ours. When the Female Furies come to Earth and see Barda living a different kind of life in a world with different attitudes, he makes sure to show that it gives the Furies pause and they hang out for a bit. (Yet still, they have their bodies commented on by the men of Earth.) When the very capable Gilotina tries to distract a guard at the prison, she knows that the guard will want to manhandle her, and she uses it and her sex to her advantage to help her sisters. Granny Goodness, as the only woman in Darkseid’s inner circle, is given the task of mother of orphans, a matriarchal job.

You can see the brutality of the world and that Kirby knew that it was harder for the women who lived in it.

What impressed me most about Jack Kirby’s Fourth World is how incredibly complex it is. It is deep and profound, and it shows Kirby’s love of world building. His interest in science and technology. His questions about the human condition. His worries about morality. His consideration about the nature of good and evil. His interest in the unbreakable bonds of true love. He dives deep in the Fourth World and it is absolutely brilliant. And it is no secret that Jack Kirby was a fierce feminist, who consistently created and wrote strong women. Big Barda and Granny Goodness are two of the strongest women in comics, but there are tragic elements in the way that they exist on the page and in the story, yet are side players in a tale that is ultimately about Fathers and Sons.

There’s a sadness about Granny Goodness and the Female Furies in Kirby’s Fourth World. It’s hard to catch if you’re not reading closely, but when I read the whole Fourth World omnibus, I couldn’t help but see it. It’s there and it’s brutal. In writing her, I felt a great sympathy for Granny Goodness. She was dealt a bum hand. Of course, the fact is that Granny Goodness is a terrible person. But even as Kirby wrote her, we as readers know that she does what she does in order to survive and thrive in a world that was working against her. She finds the cracks in the system and takes the cards that are dealt her and exploits them for her own use.

The tragedy of Granny Goodness and what she had to give away of herself to survive mirrors what many women have had to live through before there was a way to talk about what was unfair in society. Granny Goodness was created in 1971, during a time when women were just beginning to fight hard for equality and control over their own bodies. I saw Granny as a way to show how women have survived for eons before the current awakenings going on now and also as a stand-in for a kind of second wave feminism.

Granny is strong and capable before there was a large enough number of women with her to truly make a difference and to implement change on Apokolips. She was alone, with Darkseid having absolute control over her, and she was not seen as fully equal by his cronies. One of the tragedies of Granny is she’s trying to make a group of allies for herself that she can control with the Female Furies only to realize that she cannot understand them because she is a victim of the systems that informed her. She’s trapped by things that she did as she tried to survive her own miserable circumstances on Apokolips.

To me, Granny suffers desperately from being the only woman at the table and having to fight so hard to keep her place, so when change finally comes, she cannot perceive it or welcome it because she sees it as dangerous to her way of life. She can only reject the new wave of ideas and action that bubble up because she is frightened of letting go of what little power she was afforded by the system that made her. Granny can do nothing except try to maintain a status quo because that is the only thing she knows will work. It’s tragic and makes Granny Goodness an amazingly rich character to write and to consider. It is devastating that she is unable to participate in the awakening that Barda has other than to try and squash it.

As much as I was entranced with Granny, for me, the key to unlocking this story was Big Barda and her awakening. Because even in Kirby’s version, that is a huge part of her story—her rejection of Apokolips and her turn toward love and a different way of living her life. It’s a great tale and it’s one that we all love. I knew that for our story, I needed to pull directly from the source and to honor it. So, I looked deeply at the inciting moment that changed her life—the meeting of Scott Free which occurs in Mister Miracle #9. (Happily, you can read it in the back of the Female Furies trade paperback to see my inspiration and how our miniseries really is an expansion of that issue.)

When I read that issue, I knew that I had a story that I could expand out. One that dealt with the themes that interested me and the questions that I had about how women deal with male power and how they resist against it once a breaking point occurs. Big Barda and Scott Free have one of the biggest love stories in comics and it’s a great one. It has all the elements of an epic story: war, secrets and true love. 

Any societal change and awakening is not easy, and it was important to highlight that in Female Furies. Big Barda was the obvious character to take on the mantle of hero and leader because in Kirby’s own story, she makes a choice to change her life and to leave the world she knows at great cost. Speaking up takes bravery and strength. Changing course takes courage. But while Barda ultimately goes on the journey and lives her life in a new way, to me it was Aurelie who started the conversation and took the first step. Barda is just the one who amplifies it until its heard by the others.

In making Aurelie the main character at the start of the story, my hope was that readers would get to go through all the growing pains that awakenings go through and also the unfair reality that not all heroes who start change get to be around to see the change happen. There are many stages that happen to the individual and the group when light is shed on systemic misogyny and sexual harassment/assault. I felt that it was important to move through all the kinds of conversations and feelings it brings up: Disbelief, Denial, Awakening, Ally gathering and Action.

As we begin to notice systemic misogyny and other societal ills in our own world, I think that a miniseries like Female Furies gives the opportunity to look at classic stories and iconic characters and dig deeper into what makes them great and helps them to stand the test of time. Stories we love can withstand reexamination. Characters who are not front and center deserve to have a light shone on them. Because when only one kind of voice tells the story, you don’t get the full story. I hope that in reading Female Furies, people can see the richness that is inherent in updating a tale to be even more in step with the concerns of the current day.

Female Furies by Cecil Castellucci, Adriana Melo and Hi-Fi is now available in print and as a digital download.

Cecil Castellucci is the Eisner nominated and New York Times bestselling writer of Batgirl, Female Furies, Shade the Changing Girl, Plain Janes and much more. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @misscecil.